Â One of the nice things about the off-season is that it allows a bit of time for experimentation and play. My brother showed up with these chocolate macaroons that he has been testing, and boy are they tasty! He has outdone himself. I think they could be a great addition to our baked goods. I’ll try to get the recipe off him…
The Irish Times kindly printed the following article of mine in a Virtual Ireland Supplement featuring examples of blogging, along with pieces from Slugger O’Toole, Damien Blake, Sinead GleesonÂ and Grandad…
With the rain and darkness of the Kerry winter upon us, I have been thinking a lot about chocolate, that magical concoction of comfort. Chocolate, or xocoatl, meaning “bitter water,” originated in Central America as a drink enhanced with chilli peppers and other spices. Made by crushing the cocoa plant’s seeds, it was revered in ancient Mayan culture and was integral to religious and royal ceremonies. Later, the Aztecs grew to love it, and chocolate became a huge part of their economy. They even used cocoa beans as currency. In Aztec mythology, the first cocoa tree came from paradise, carried down on the beam of the morning star by the god Quetzalcoatl.
That’s a story I can get behind. Give me an intense 70% cocoa bar or a velvety hot chocolate as you might find on Ile Saint-Louis in Paris, and the angels start singing. The same goes for high quality chocolate truffles that melt in the mouth or a luxurious, genache-covered cake such as our baker Wiebke’s Sachertorte. When we’re making our chocolate ice cream and mixing in dark Valrhona, I grab a spoon. It’s not just quality control. I love chocolate.
My brother suffers the same affliction, which is half the reason we started Murphys Ice Cream (ice cream, of course, being the other half). Ordering chocolate samples was our first item of business after incorporation, and it’s no wonder. My mother’s a chocolate addict. Her own mother retired to Switzerland (where chocolate has “national dish” status) and brought us bags of the stuff when she visited. Even my father will happily pack away a generous amount when no one is looking too closely.
Strangely, chocolate does not seduce everyone. Columbus was not a fan, so maybe we’re fortunate to have it at all. When he became fully aware of chocolate on his fourth voyage, he dismissed it. Cortes had more sense, however, and he brought it back to Spain in 1528, after conquering Mexico’s supreme chocoholic, Montezuma.
With the addition of sugar, drinking chocolate became the rage in the European courts and then in Paris cafes. In 1657, the first chocolate shop opened in London. Even the clergy took to it, and the Vatican proclaimed about chocolate in 1662: “Liquidum non frangit jejunum” – “liquid chocolate doesn’t count as breaking the fast. That’s something to remember with Lent just a few months away.
It was 1857 before the British chocolatier, J. S. Fry, developed solid eating chocolate; filled chocolates were only invented by the Swiss in 1913. Well into the 20th Century, chocolate was still primarily a beverage.
With that in mind, I have been thinking of widening the range of hot chocolates in our Dingle and Killarney shops (we already have three variations). It’s time to bring out the spices and play. Perhaps some Mayan warmth, in the form of thick, steaming chocolate with a little bite of chilli pepper, will prove the perfect antidote to a blustery winter’s day in Kerry!
A big part of our philosophy in terms of making ice cream or anything else is that good ingredients will make a good product.
I know that is a bit of a cliche, but it is true. All the cooking technique in the world wont cover inferior ingredients.
Especially for home cooking and baking, it won’t cost you that much more to source high quality ingredients, and the difference in the final product will be immense.
Â Today Colm from the Skelligs Chocolate Co. came into our Killarney shop to do a tasting. It’s never any harm to do such a thing, and I certainly got in my few nibbles. I had to leave to come back to Dingle, but hopefully our customers there tasted a good bit of chocolate!
We will try to stock more of his chocolates across both shops coming up to Christmas, as part of our Irish chocolate range, and we suggest anyone heading out on the Ring of Kerry check out their factory shop in Ballinskelligs…
There was great excitement in the shop yesterday as three new Valrhona chocolate bars arrived to add to our collection. Needless to say, we had to rip open one of each immediately to sample (i.e. devour)!
The bars are so new they are only on the news section of the Valrhona website, and they widen the range nicely.
Araguani: We have used this chocolate for baking for some time, but it’s new as a retail bar. It’s not as subtle as the Caraibe or Guanaja, but itÂ carries a bitterness that is great for cooking and a straightforward chocolate hit…
Abinao: At 85% cocoa, this bar is a chocolate explosion.
Tanariva: A milk chocolate to complement the Jivara, Tanariva has less cocoa content and strong hints of caramel. Although it’s complex and high quality, it’s a good option for people with simpler and sweeter tastes.
I was lucky enough to grow up with a grandmother living on the border of Italy and Switzerland, and every time she visited, she brought a huge sack of chocolate. I guess it’s her fault that I turned into such a chocoholic!
Her chocolate bars of choice were Frey and Lindt, and at the time they were exotic luxuries. When we first opened the shop here, Lindt was still a rarity in these parts, and when we wanted to buy some, Lindt Switzerland directed us to their English subsidiary, who treated us in a beastly fashion, and we could only infer that theyÂ had no interest in our custom. Last year, however, Lindt put a salesman in Ireland. He was very friendly and pro-active, and we brought in their chocolate.
It has sold well for us, and it certainly had nostalgia value having grown up with it. But the salesman has proven to be too good, and now Lindt is in every shop around, so we’re considering dropping it.
There is more and more variety in Irish chocolate, and Aine’s now have a range of bars, including a diabetic bar. It’s always good to support Irish producers, and we’ve brought in some to see how they sell (we’ve carried her boxes of truffles for some time).
In any case, we won’t be lacking for variety when it comes to chocolate bars, for we have a huge range of Valrhona, and my brother and I are completely hooked on the stuff!
A bit of good news for us vis a vis the previous post. The Examiner today claims that Ireland has the highest chocolate consumption in the world, at 11.2kg per person per year. Of course, I think I might eat that in a month…
This seems to be a bit disputed with several sites including the Accidental Hedonist putting the Swiss on top and Ireland in 3rd. Perhaps the Examiner has more recent figures…
In terms of artisian food, Ireland has long been known for cheeses, but until quite recently, there was little in terms of artisian Irish chocolates. Obviously some chocolate companies have been around for a long time, but chocolate in Ireland has until fairly recently been defined by Cadburys. Needless to say, that was not much solace for chocolate lovers, but happily things are rapidly changing for the better.
One of the companies to look out for, if you don’t know them already is Cocoa bean. Based in Limerick and around since 2002, this company does bold chocolates in interesting packaging.
Their flavours are strong, and they do a variety of unusual combinations.
Their chocolate crunch and fruit and nut clusters are definitely addictive.